Fighting to be free, p.34
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.34

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 

  * * *

  Breakfast was … awkward. My mom was indeed crying, but pretending she had dust in her eye and that her allergies were acting up. My dad was watching me with a sad smile on his face. Luckily for me, gullibility must run in my family because they didn’t push my car-crash-of-a-face issue too far once I told them my lie. I forced the food down, almost retching on each mouthful because my stomach was tied in knots.

  After breakfast, I looked at the clock. It was only just before ten. Had it really been less than four hours since he’d called? It felt like an age had passed while I was alone in my misery.

  I didn’t need to leave for the airport until twelve thirty, so I still had a couple of hours to kill. I couldn’t sit around here, though; it was driving me insane because each minute felt like an hour. My mind went to Jamie again; I really needed to see him. He still hadn’t responded to my texts to say if he was going to come to the airport and give us another go. I wasn’t expecting him to, but the waiting and not knowing if he’d even read them was killing me slowly. I decided to go and see him, go to his place and pray that he was there and not with some girl, as he’d claimed he was. A small part of me was still holding on to the hope that he was making that up to try to hurt me.

  I made my excuses to my parents, telling them I had a couple of friends to say good-bye to before I left, and then made the short drive to his apartment. My hands were shaking the whole time. By the time I got there, I was a mess and my tears were falling again.

  I trudged up to his apartment with heavy legs and an even heavier heart. I wasn’t even sure I was strong enough to look at him in case he told me right to my face that it was over. I didn’t want to see his beautiful face when he crushed me beyond repair. But I knew I had to do this and try to convince him not to give up on us. Raising my hand, I knocked on the door a couple of times. When he didn’t answer I put my head against the wood and closed my eyes.

  Had he seriously stayed out last night with a girl?

  My hand fumbled in my pocket, pulling out my keys and finding the one for his apartment. He’d given it to me a couple of weeks after he moved in, when I’d started staying here a lot. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t appreciate my using it now, but that didn’t stop me from slipping it into the lock and pushing open his door.

  I couldn’t breathe as I stepped across the threshold. Everything looked exactly the same as it had the previous night. I glanced toward the sofa, swallowing my sob when I thought about the intimate moments we’d shared there last night. I would remember that forever. I could practically still feel his skin against mine, still hear our breaths tangling together as he made love to me. Everything had been so perfect, so tender and intimate, but now, as I stood here alone, the memory of it was taunting me.

  Tearing my gaze away from the sofa, I let my eyes roam his apartment; the place was bare, as I expected it to be. Holding my breath, I crept toward his bedroom and peeked in. His bed was empty, still made, and hadn’t been slept in. I’d come over here wanting to see for myself if he was lying to me about the girl, but now that I knew he hadn’t spent the night here I wished I didn’t know at all.

  Pain made my whole body feel weak as I started to accept the fact that he’d cheated. The funny thing was that it didn’t make me love him any less; I still wanted to be with him and work this out. Usually I despised girls like me when I watched them on TV or read about this kind of situation in a book. I’d always shaken my head and wondered how they could be so weak as to let a man treat them that way and still come back for more—but now I knew why they did. The saying “love conquers all” made perfect sense to me in that moment.

  My breath came out in one big gust as I stepped into his room, almost tripping over his suitcase, which was propped next to the door. One of his favorite hoodies was tossed on the foot of his bed so I stooped and picked it up, pressing it to my face and taking in lungfuls of his delicious smell.

  “Stop behaving like a stalker, Ellie,” I muttered to myself, throwing the hoodie back onto the bed. “And now you’re talking to yourself. Really, get a grip, woman.” I shook my head at myself and turned, heading into his kitchen to find what I was looking for. When I had the pen and paper, I scribbled a note to him.

  Jamie,

  Please come to the airport, we can just go for a couple of weeks. Please?

  I love you, and I’m sorry. Please, can we start over?

  Ellie xxx

  I frowned as I looked down at the paper. There were so many things that I wanted to say to him, so many unspoken words that I didn’t know how to phrase properly. Hopefully he’d give me the chance to say them later on. I scribbled an extra kiss on the end before I headed back to his bedroom and balanced the note on top of his suitcase so that he’d see it and hopefully grab the case and run out the door. I sighed deeply, praying it would happen just like that. I refused to fully accept that this was over.

  Fiddling with my keys, I disconnected his from the bunch and set it on top of my note. I turned and was just about to walk out when I decided that I could probably cross the line a little more. So before I left, I grabbed his hoodie from the bed, and I slipped it on as I walked out, zipping it up around me. Maybe his smell would help me get through the next couple of hours without losing my mind.

  As I closed his front door behind me I whimpered when I realized that the last time I’d walked out of his apartment, I’d had the perfect future all lined up. Last time I’d headed out of this place I’d been so happy that I’d practically skipped to my car. Now, my shoulders were slumped, my heart hurt, and I actually felt a little dead inside. As I forced myself to walk away from his apartment, I sent up a little prayer that he’d come home in time to see my note and would decide to give me another shot.

  * * *

  The hoodie didn’t help much. I still felt empty inside; tears were just making my eyes prickle the whole time I waited and spent the last of the time with my family. Stacey came over too; she was crying all over me, which didn’t help my jangled nerves. I still hadn’t told anyone, which was a feat in itself. The truth was bursting to come out of me, I wanted to confide in Stacey and have her tell me it was okay, but I couldn’t do that because I was still waiting to hear from Jamie.

  My cell phone went off a couple of times, and each time my heart would leap into my throat as I immediately thought it was him, only to be disappointed when it was friends calling or texting to wish me a safe journey.

  When it was finally time to leave and the cab driver had loaded all of my cases into the trunk, I stood on my front lawn, bidding a teary farewell to my parents, sister, and Stacey. I’d spun a lie that something had come up with Jamie’s family so he was meeting me at the airport instead of picking me up. Again they bought the lie, obviously having no reason to doubt me or him. As we hugged, my mom lost her battle against the dust in her eye and all-out sobbed, begging me to write often and call. I swallowed, trying to remain in control, trying not to think about the fact that if Jamie didn’t turn up at the airport I’d be hailing a cab home again in a couple of hours. My good-byes were shadowed with grief as in the back of my mind all I could think about was him and the last words he’d said to me on the phone.

  After I’d hugged everyone a billion times and made watery promises to call as soon as we landed, I finally got to climb into the solitude of the cab. As the driver sped us away from the house, I didn’t look back; instead, I pulled out the tickets that I had in my carry-on luggage and looked at the names printed on them.

  “So, where you off to?” the driver asked.

  I looked up to see him smiling at me politely in the rearview mirror. “Um … all over. Rome first, but my boyfriend and I are planning on backpacking around for a bit.” I noticed how my voice trembled on the word boyfriend.

  He nodded. “Sounds great. I went to Rome once—” I tuned out as he started telling me about all the sights I needed to see when we got there. I nodded along, pretending to listen as he drove. Thankfully, he was one
of those cabbies who rambled on and on with no real interaction needed from me, so I got away with not really listening to him.

  When we pulled up outside the airport, I dug in my purse and paid the fare before pushing open the door and stepping out. Dread washed over me as I looked at the bustle of JFK airport. People were walking in and out in a constant stream, but I couldn’t really see their faces. Nothing seemed to matter to me apart from the fact that none of them was Jamie. Something bumped my leg, so I snapped out of my daydream and looked around to see that the friendly cabdriver had gotten me a cart and had already loaded my luggage on for me.

  I smiled gratefully as a wave of loneliness washed over me. I’d never been to this kind of place alone before; I had no idea where to go or what I had to do. “Thanks.”

  He nodded. “No problem. Have a great time, and remember what I said about the Colosseum,” he called as he headed back around to his side of the cab. I nodded in agreement but actually had no idea what he’d said about it at all.

  After standing on the curb for a couple of seconds plucking up my courage, I lifted my chin, gripped the handle, and pushed the luggage cart into the airport. Jamie would turn up, I knew he would. He was an incredible person, and he’d give me a second shot, I was sure of it.

  As I walked in, I gulped. I’d forgotten how enormous the airport was; I had no idea how Jamie would even find me when he did arrive. I decided to stay fairly close to the terminal entrance just in case. Maneuvering myself over to the side, I took a seat on one of the hard metal chairs, discreetly checking the monitors to see that our flight was still on time and that we had to check in at gate A3. There was still an hour before check-in closed for our flight; he had plenty of time before we had to go through security.

  My eyes scanned everywhere. Every time I saw a guy walk past who had brown hair, my heart took off in overdrive, only to be disappointed over and over. I chewed on my lip as a middle-aged couple sat down in the empty seats next to me; both of them were grinning and laughing, obviously happy to be going on vacation. Their happy smiles made me die a little inside while I was waiting there for a guy who might not even turn up.

  I could imagine the looks on my parents’ faces when I returned home today. I could practically hear the sympathetic words of support that would mean nothing because of the heartbreak I’d be feeling.

  One o’clock came and went. After what felt like forever waiting and watching the clock, my heart sank when they appealed over the loudspeaker for any remaining passengers on our flight to go to the check-in desks. Realization suddenly washed over me; it was like someone dumped a bucket of cold water in my face. He really wasn’t coming. I’d built my hopes up, planned my life with him, I’d sat here totally expecting him to show … and he wasn’t going to. I was a fool, a complete heartbroken fool.

  Putting my head in my hands, I bent forward and sobbed like I had never sobbed before. It was over, just like he said. I was alone. I’d blown it; my one chance with the adorable, beautiful boy and I’d completely blown it because I hadn’t trusted him. I deserved this, I deserved to be alone.

  Everything else seemed to fade away as I cried and cried. No one offered me support—or if they did I didn’t hear them through the sound of my grief crashing in my ears. I gripped my hands in my hair, welcoming the sharp pain in my scalp so that I could try to focus.

  I sniffed loudly, swiping roughly at my face, drying my tears as people around me stared openly with a mixture of sympathy and nervousness. I guess my sudden outpouring of tears scared them or something; I couldn’t bring myself to care.

  His words on the phone earlier were replaying over and over in my head: “I don’t love you enough to give up my life for you.” Why had I let myself hope that he would come? Why had I pretended to everyone this morning and carried this pain around on my own? Why had I fallen so in love with him that it felt like my world was crashing down around me right now? It was like I’d fallen into darkness, a dark and ugly place that I didn’t want to be in but had no way of escaping. A weight was pushing down on my chest, making it hard to draw breath as the devastation and hurt just kept building and building the more I thought about it.

  Home. I need to go home.

  Just as I gripped the handle of the cart, ready to stand and go hail a cab so I could cry myself to sleep, a hand touched my shoulder.

  “Ellie?”

  Relief washed over me. I took a deep breath and turned in my seat, the stress and tension leaving my body because his being here obviously meant that I got another shot, a second chance, and there was no way I was wasting it. Jamie and I were meant to be together, and I’d prove that to him.

  EPILOGUE

  THE SUN WAS streaming through the windows when I slowly started to drift into consciousness. I squeezed my eyes shut at the brightness of it, moaning as I rolled over and buried my face in the pillows. A thin line of sweat covered my skin, caused by the humidity in the room.

  Huffing out a big breath, I pushed myself up, already hearing the sounds of the shower running, which explained the empty bed and the lack of soft snoring in my ear. When my feet touched the cool tiles of the floor, I closed my eyes and sighed before grabbing the bottle of water from the bedside table and forcing myself to get out of bed and start the day.

  My gaze settled on the open double doors and the little balcony beyond. Needing fresh air, I walked outside, taking deep breaths, trying to stave off the hangover that was fighting to take over.

  Smiling to myself, I leaned my elbows on the metal railing, casting my eyes over Florence as it started to wake up and get a little busier.

  Florence was much nicer than Rome, in my opinion; it was calmer, more chill and not as busy.

  When the smell of coffee wafted over from one of the quaint little cafés that were hidden in the back streets, my mouth instantly started watering at the thought of a tall vanilla latte with extra foam. I headed back into the room, still hearing sounds of the shower as I threw on a pair of denim shorts and a pink stretch T-shirt. I scribbled a note saying I would be down in the square and set it on the bedside table, then grabbed my purse and left the room on a coffee hunt, not even caring that I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth.

  I weaved the familiar path to get to my desired destination, the Piazza della Signoria. The square was fairly busy, even though a quick glance at the clock on the expansive building told me it wasn’t even ten a.m. I smiled to myself and walked across the huge square, letting my eyes rake over the statues that were dotted around.

  My stomach gave a little squeeze as I approached the café that I loved to death because they did the most incredible pastries. It was fairly busy already, but I managed to grab the last outside table, which had the most perfect view of the square and the benefit of shade, thanks to an umbrella.

  The waitress came over immediately, taking my coffee and pastry order, then I sat back in my chair and relaxed as I watched the people walk past going to work, or the tourists as they cooed over everything and took pictures.

  “Mi scusi.” I turned to see a kind-faced older lady smiling warmly at me. “È libero questo posto?”

  I winced, smiling apologetically because I had no idea what she’d said. “I’m sorry, I don’t … um … Non parlo italiano?” I prayed that was right because, as beautiful as the Italian language sounded to me, all I knew how to say was no thank you, where are the bathrooms, and how much.

  She laughed and nodded. “Ah, you are American, sì?”

  I grinned. “Sì.”

  She motioned toward the chair opposite me. “May I sit with you?” she asked in thickly accented English.

  “Oh! Yeah, sure!” I agreed, blushing because of course that’s what she was asking me. Now I felt stupid for not understanding.

  She smiled gratefully and pulled out the chair, sitting down. “It is too hot to sit inside, no?”

  I nodded in agreement, leaning back as the waitress brought my coffee and pastry, setting them on the table in front of m
e. The lady at my table smiled and placed her order as I stirred in my sugar.

  “You are alone in Florence?”

  My head snapped up at her question. I was unsure how to answer. I shrugged. “Sort of” was the only thing I could think of to say. She looked at me curiously, obviously waiting for me to continue and explain, but I didn’t want to; it was too hard to say out loud.

  “A bella ragazza like you should not be alone,” she replied.

  I smiled weakly but turned my attention back to people-watching in the square so that she wouldn’t continue to talk to me. My mind wandered to Jamie, even though I had forbidden myself to even think his name. My chest tightened and my breathing came out a little shallow as raw emotion started to build up inside me. I tried so hard not to think about him. That day was still so fresh in my mind that the pain of having my hopes dashed time and time again made my heart ache, even after three weeks.

  I hadn’t heard from him at all. Jamie had asked his friend Ray to come to the airport and meet me that day. Just as I had gotten my hopes up that everything was fine, that I would get a happy ending with him, my dream was crushed again when I turned around and saw that it wasn’t the love of my life standing there after all.

  Ray had given me this long, sympathetic speech about how Jamie had always been afraid of commitment, about how he’d never settle down and it wasn’t my fault.

  It had hurt so much that I could still feel the painful squeezing of my heart as I pictured Ray’s sympathetic expression as he cupped my elbow, holding me steady when my knees weakened. That expression on his face had made me realize that I wasn’t ready to face it yet, I wasn’t ready to tell people that the guy I wanted to spend my life with had rejected me and crushed me beyond repair. Looking at Ray while he smiled with understanding and tried to make me feel better, I knew that I needed to get away and make a clean break. So that was exactly what I did.

  I’d dried my tears, forced a smile, shoved Jamie’s plane ticket into Ray’s chest, and told him to tell Jamie that he was an asshole and that he was welcome to the tramp he’d bedded last night. Then I’d lifted my chin and marched over to the check-in desk.

  I’d hoped that by putting some distance between us, I’d leave my grief and problems behind. It didn’t work. The heartbreak had just followed me to Rome and overshadowed the beauty of everything
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